Brainiac on Banjo: At Last!

You might have heard a soft chuckling sound wafting in the breeze a couple days ago. That would be me.

Last Monday, the staff at Image Comics voted to form a labor union – to be specific, the Comic Book Workers United. Their statement leads with the following:

For years, comics publishing workers have watched our professional efforts support creators and delight readers. Sadly, we have also watched that same labor be taken for granted at best and exploited at worst. Keeping our heads above water was the new normal before the pandemic and since its onset we have been expected to take on even larger workloads with fewer resources.

Our workforce, and the comic book and publishing industry as a whole, is overtaxed and undervalued. This is detrimental not only to general staff but also to the creators we are paid to serve and the audiences they in turn work to entertain. Our labor is integral to the comic book industry. It requires specialized skills, dedication, and makes quality publishing possible. We love what we do. But loving what you do doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ask for improvements to your working conditions. It is with this in mind and with great hope for the future of Image Comics and the comic book industry itself that we announce our intent to form a union and request voluntary recognition.

It goes on, and I urge you to read it. Regular followers of this ethersphere quadrant probably surmised I tend to show pro-labor tendencies, probably because I can’t stop bragging I was a Wobblie. I figure any organization founded by the likes of Eugene V. Debs, Lucy Parsons, and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones deserves my support. This does not mean I am 100% union-uber-alles; I’m only about 99.2%. Most if not all so-called police unions are crypto-fascist organizations that threaten and sulk and run away from their jobs the moment civilians start acting like maybe cops shouldn’t be above the law and shouldn’t be free to kill unarmed Black kids at will. Go figure.

Unions have been having a hard time keeping up with current realities – it ain’t 1933 anymore. Times change, and while the concerns remain pretty much the same, we live in a very different and extremely well-shielded work environment.

What the workers at Image said in their organizing statement is as accurate as “that big yellow thing in the sky is called the sun.” Just as police should not be above the law, comic book workers should not be beneath it. Now more than ever, we as a society must realize that fan-ish enthusiasm is not a substitute for fair pay, dignity, and respect.

This effort is not the same as previous attempts to form unions or guilds of comics freelancers. I’m in favor of that as well, but that is one tricky sumbytch. Most publishers are intuitively efficient in playing freelancers off one another, and these efforts usually have died quick deaths.

The effort of Comic Book Workers United is a different thing: it is a textbook union organizing affair subject to and benefitted by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. If efficacious, it could aid in similar programs for freelancers that should prove to be more contemporary and more successful. But the fact is, unions have protected Americans and the American economy ever since the first thumb was discovered inside a hot dog.

If successful at Image, will Marvel and DC be next? That should be amusing. No rational person wants to take on the Mouse. But their owners, Disney and Warner Media (as of this writing, possessed by AT&T) are quite used to working with unions and have been doing so for decades. That won’t make it much easier for DC and Marvel staffs to succeed, but if the labor unions disappeared overnight the property values in California would plummet.

To those wacky kids over at Image – I congratulate you. You’re taking a risk, maybe one hell of a risk, and those concepts that are central to most comic book stories, fair play and justice, are on your side.

To those friends of mine who just happen to be owners at Image – relax, keep an open mind, and help create a win-win. You’ll do fine, and Image will do better.